Jennifer Houtz

Jennifer Houtz

Jennifer Houtz

Major: Biology – Animal Behavior.

Class Year: 2018
Hometown: Mifflintown, PA

Additional Information

Over the past three winter breaks (2015-17), I have traveled as an undergraduate field assistant to the Ecuadorian Amazon with Dr. Brent Horton to examine a hormone-signaling pathway thought to cause behavioral variation in a unique tropical bird called the wire-tailed manakin. We examined how testosterone influences variation in complex male social behaviors and their social network by performing hormone manipulation surgeries. In spring 2016, I optimized a direct PCR protocol for the molecular sexing of 1,011 white-crowned sparrow nestlings. This work was part of a collaborative effort among Drs. Jim Rivers and Matthew Betts of Oregon State University that sought to examine the effect of herbicides on the offspring sex ratio of white-crowned sparrows. During summer 2016, I was a Conservation Science intern at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary where I worked on projects with kestrels, broad-winged hawks, and vultures. Currently, under Drs. John Wallace and Brent Horton, I am investigating how the European starling gut microbiome shifts across its life history events. 

Inspirations (for major, research, internship):
I had no idea what field of biology I wanted to go into when I began classes at Millersville. While taking Zoology, I became very intrigued by animals and how they adapt and behave. My research experiences, especially my trip to the Amazon, solidified my decision to pursue a research career in animal behavior and neuroendocrinology. Being a biology tutor also revealed to me that I have a passion for teaching as well. I accredit my interest in biology and desire for a research career to Millersville’s biology professors. Their willingness to help me achieve my dreams inspired me to pursue a career in academia where I can someday inspire future students to do the same.  

Highlights (from courses/internship/research):
My time in the Ecuadorian Amazon has been the experience of a lifetime and has opened my eyes to the natural beauty that the world has to offer us as scientists. I had the opportunity to conduct cutting-edge research on birds in the most biodiverse habitat on Earth. I had the opportunity to present my results from the white-crowned sparrow project at the North American Ornithological Conference in Washington, D.C. in summer 2016. This work also culminated in a co-authored publication in Conservation Physiology, serving as my first publication!

Takeaway (from courses/internship/research):
My research experiences have taught me to step outside my comfort zone. I had never traveled outside of the U.S. before going to Ecuador, but I loved every minute of the trip. Sometimes you have to leave home in order to experience what the world has to offer. I have learned valuable research techniques and have established professional connections that will last long into my career. All of my biology courses have enhanced my knowledge and provided me with necessary skills to succeed in the field and lab. Overall, Millersville has fully equipped me to become a full-fledged researcher through integrative classes and research experiences.

Advice (for incoming freshman in your shoes):
Don’t let yourself get too comfortable. Take advantage of every opportunity thrown your way or else you’ll always wonder “what if”. Develop professional relationships with your professors by going to office hours and asking diligent questions. By pushing you, they are helping you in the long run by preparing you for real life experiences. Get involved around campus by joining various clubs. It is a great way to find a solid support system of friends from different majors and backgrounds.

Aspirations (upon graduation):
After graduating from Millersville, I plan to attend graduate school to obtain my Ph.D. in Ecology. I desire to combine my interests in microbiology, neuroendocrinology, and animal behavior by investigating the effect of gut microbiota on brain development, physiology, and behavior. Eventually, I want to obtain a position as a faculty researcher and share my passion for biology with younger generations of scientists by teaching at the university level.